Voyage of His Majesty's Ship 'Alceste' to China, Corea, and the Island of Lewchew. With an Account of Her Shipwreck
John Murray, Albemarle-street, 3rd. ed., 1820. (ii) +339 pp., engraved. vignette port. frontice, + 1 chart with a small engraving inset folding + 5 hand-coloured aquatints. Contemporary half maroon straight grain calf lettered direct to spine; gilt with 5 panels paste paper boards, minor rubbing of binding consistent with its age, a nice solide clean copy of this important book. Dr. John M'Leod was appointed Surgeon of His Majesty's Ship ALCESTE during her historic voyage of discovery to China, Korea, and the island of Lewchew (now Okinawa, part of Japan, but then an independent kingdom trading with Japan and Asia). First published by John Murray in 1817, a second edition appeared a year later, and finally this third edition in 1820. The British Government dispatched HMS ALCESTE, Captain Murray Maxwell RN. (1775-1831), in command, following a representation of the Court of Directors of the East India Company. A 46-gun frigate, the ALCESTE sailed from Spithead in February 1816 in company with H.M. Brig LYRA commanded by the celebrated Captain Basil Hall, RN., and with the East Indiaman GENERAL HEWITT. Captain Maxwell was charged with delivering the British Embassy of Lord Amherst to China. The ships sailed to Rio de Janeiro, across to the Cape of Good Hope, and on to Batavia before arriving arriving in the China Sea in the summer. Their first meeting with the Chinese and the politics of the day are described. After landing Lord Amherst and his staff, ALCESTE sailed on to explore Korea and the surrounding islands before returning to embark the Embassy from Macao following its abortive mission with the Emperor. However, this was not a straight forward affair. Maxwell was ordered by a mandarin to stop otherwise his battery would sink the frigate. Maxwell gave an angry reply and sailed on, scattering the war junks that attempted to block his passage, and silencing the batteries with one single well-directed broadside. They continued their voyage of exploration unmolested, calling at the remote island of Lewchew and later calling at Manila. From here they sailed for England but the frigate ran aground on a reef in unchartered waters and was lost. Captain Maxwell was forced to divide his party and a naval lieutenant led Lord Amherst and a group to Batavia for assistance, whilst some 200 men remained on the island under Maxwell's care. The author describes their struggle to find water, the attack upon them by Malay pirates, and their eventual rescue by an East Indiaman. On the voyage home, they called at St. Helena and met the exiled Bonaparte, and upon reaching England Captain Maxwell faced Court-martial for the loss of his ship Ñ which was held aboard the QUEEN CHARLOTTE at Portsmouth Ñ and he was fully acquitted and was knighted for his services. The loss of the ALCESTE saddened him greatly as this was the second time he had commanded her. The first occasion was in the Adriatic during the Napoleonic Wars (1811) when, in company with two other frigates, he took on three French frigates and after a fierce engagement captured two of the enemy. The voyage of the ALCESTE to the Far East makes for an exciting read. The book is illustrated with an engraved portrait of Captain Maxwell, a folding chart with a small engraving inset, and five attractive hand-coloured aquatints that of Fort Maxwell not present in the first edition.